By Phil Whitten//Contributor | Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Gus Stager, whose NCAA and U.S. National teams dominated in the 1950s and early 1960s, passed away peacefully Sunday morning while visiting his daughter at her home in Washington state. A charismatic presence on deck, he was admired and respected by coaches around the world.
Stager was a winner right from the start of his career. In his first coaching assignment at Dearborn (MI) High School, his boys won both the state and national titles in three years of his four-year tenure. Next, he took the head coaching position at the University of Michigan, where his predecessor was Matt Mann. Mann had been Stager’s coach when he, Stager, had been a Michigan undergrad who finaled three times in middle distance events at NCAAs.
Stager remained at Michigan for 25 years, winning four NCAA titles and placing either first or second in the Big Ten conference 23 of those 25 seasons. In 1959, his team scored more points than the second, third and fourth place teams combined, a performance that swimming historian Bruce Wigo has described as the most dominant in NCAA history.
Named the U.S. men’s coach for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, he led the USA team to a narrow win over Australia. Four years earlier, the Aussies had drubbed the Americans.
Among the national champions he coached were Gustavo Borges, Mike Bottom, Fernando Canales, Ron Clarke, Bill Darnton, Bill Farley, Dave Gillanders, Dick Hanley, Cy Hopkins, Mo Isaac, Stu Isaac, Jeff Longstreth, Tom Malchow, Dick Nelson, Carl Robie, and Tony Tashnick, among many others.
Two celebrations of Coach Stager’s life are being planned: one in Washington and one in Indiana.